The company, Bryant and May, was founded with the specific aim of making only Safety Matches. They were influential in fighting against the dreadful disease known as Phossy jaw which was caused by white phosphorus used in the manufacture of the early matches.
They started production in 1861, on a dilapidated site in Bow which had once been used for the manufacture of candles, crinoline and rope. This site was gradually expanded as a model factory.
However the public were initially unwilling to buy the more expensive safety matches so they also had to make the traditional Lucifer Matches.
They were the target of the London match-girls strike of 1888, which won important improvements in working conditions and pay for the mostly female workforce.
To protect its position Bryant and May merged with or took over its rivals. These were:
- Diamond Match, the assets and goodwill of the British Diamond Match Company
- The (American) Diamond Match Company acquired 54.5 percent of the share capital of Bryant and May.
- S.J.Moreland and Sons: In 1913 Bryant and May took over the Gloucester match maker S.J.Moreland and Sons, who made and sold matches under the trade name England's Glory.
- Swedish Match Company, In 1926 Bryant and May combined with a British match importer and the Swedish Match Company to become the British Match Corporation.
- Albright and Wilson, In 1929 the British Match Corporation set up a jointly-owned company with another Quaker company Albright and Wilson: The A & W Match Phosphorus Company. It took over the part of Albright and Wilson's Oldbury site, that was manufacturing amorphous phosphorus and phosphorus sesquisulfide; as these two chemicals were used in safety matches and strike anywhere matches, respectively.
- Wilkinson Sword, In 1973 the British Match Corporation merged with Wilkinson Sword to form the new company Wilkinson Match.
Wilkinson Match's shares were acquired by US company Allegheny International between 1978 and 1980 with the company taking full ownership in 1980. In 1987, Swedish Match re-acquired the company. It later sold onto the Wilkinson Sword business, retaining the match business.
In the 1980s, factories in Gloucester and Glasgow closed leaving Liverpool as the last match factory in the UK. This continued until December 1994. The premises survive today as The Matchworks office complex.
The British match brands continue to survive as brands of Swedish Match and are made outside the UK.